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Study: Meditation Reduces Migraine Frequency, Severity & Duration

Whether you believe stress is a migraine trigger or that the behaviors caused by stress (not sleeping well, eating poorly, etc.) are the culprit, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce migraine frequency and severity, according to a study published in the July edition of the journal Headache.1 MBSR is an eight-week program specifically designed to mitigate stress related to health issues. Teachings include meditation, mindfulness, relaxation breathing and gentle yoga.

In the study, 19 adults who had between four and 14 migraine days a month were split into two groups; 10 received MBSR training and nine received standard medical care. Those in the MBSR group attended classes to learn the techniques once a week for eight weeks and were instructed to practice for 45 minutes a day at least five days a week.

Following the program’s completion, MBSR participants reported significantly shorter and less disabling migraine attacks than the control group. They also reported an increased sense of control over their migraine attacks and higher levels of mindfulness. On average, they had 1.4 fewer migraines per month.

The encouraging findings of the study may be eclipsed by that number – 1.4 fewer migraines doesn’t seem that great. However, going from 4 to 2.6 migraine attacks a month is a huge improvement and people who have as many as 14 a month are generally grateful for any reduction in attack frequency. All this in a treatment that has no adverse effects and gives people a sense of control over their migraine attacks? Sounds great!

I can attest to how great it is — I took an MBSR course in 2008 and can’t recommend it highly enough. The lessons I learned were invaluable in helping me figure out how to cope with what were, at the time, constant migraine attacks. Mindfulness has since become a huge part of how I approach many aspects of and conflicts in my life. The change in my life was so tremendous that I’m thrilled to see MBSR being studied specifically for migraine.

To find an MBSR course, search for “MBSR” and the name of your city or town or look for online courses (UMass, where the program was developed, offers one for $199). Classes can be pricy, though many places offer need-based discounts. You can also approximate the course for less than $30 by reading Full Catastrophe Living and listening to Job Kabat-Zinn’s Guided Mindfulness Series 1 CD set. (Many libraries carry both resources, so you might be able to get an introduction to MBSR at no charge.)

Learn more about mindfulness and suggested resources in the Migraine.com posts:

Relaxation & Mindfulness For Migraine Patients Living with Depression & Anxiety,
by Diana Lee

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction,
by The Migraine Girl

Migraine & Mindfulness: “Bruce Almighty”,
by Kerrie Smyres (that’s me — this post includes information on CDs and websites that I’ve found most helpful)

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Wells, R. E., Burch, R., Paulsen, R. H., Wayne, P. M., Houle, T. T., & Loder, E. (2014). Meditation for Migraines: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

Comments

  • MigraineSal
    5 years ago

    I cannot articulate how meditation and mindfulness revolutionised my relationship with migraines. I stumbled on meditation in desperation when started suffering with daily neck pain which was triggering migraines and I didn’t know how to get any relief.

    I used to laugh when I heard people talk about meditation and ” zoning out ” but I have to say that I have now thankfully learnt how to ” zone out ” of my pain . . . even if only for the brief time I meditate. As far as I am concerned that is a pocket of less pain and pockets add up to a less painful life. The meditating sessions I have chosen have self fulfilling reinforcements which have turned me into a much more positive person who sees things in a more positive light ( on the whole ), even at times of debilitating pain when I need the old dark room. Mindfulness really is the key to acceptance and acceptance was the key for me in learning to live in peace with migraines.

    I am now off to practice what I preach and get my iced wheaty bags so I can have an early morning meditating session to relax me before getting up for work in a couple of hours.

  • Kathleen Wilson
    5 years ago

    I have posted about this in the migraine support group. I found taking a course extremely helpful in reducing the duration of migraine and having episodes of hemiplegic migraine, relaxing when they hit- greatly reducing their duration, not so much the frequency. I have since become a reiki and hemi sync practitioner. I am thrilled to say I have only been in bed for a day and only minor regular migraine symptoms in almost 6 months now- no full blown hemiplegic migraine! (I was experiencing daily migraine with weekly hemiplegic episodes before) My maintenance medications and botox treatments have remained the same for the past year. Really think a combination of Eastern and Western treatment options is the way to go.

  • Marsha
    5 years ago

    This is the first time I’ve read about MBSR on this site, and I’m so glad you wrote about it. MBSR is an invaluable tool for anyone living with a painful, chronic condition. I took an 8-week course several years ago, specifically as a way to mitigate/manage my episodic migraines. Even though I have never committed myself to daily mediation, I have found the mindfulness philosophy life-changing, and extremely helpful in terms of my migraines. It has helped me become better aware of how daily stress — whatever the cause — translates physically. It has helped me become more centered, aware, grateful, and calm. In moments of pain, it has helped me calm down and feel compassion towards myself, which in turn allows me to accept rather than do battle with my pain. It’s hard to explain…. I highly recommend it.

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